How to Extend Your Chord Vocabulary with Chopin’s Prelude No. 2 in A Minor -A Complete Analysis of the Harmony and the Melody.
Deciphering Music as I Go…I decipher music and then I share it.
Frederic Chopin, born in Poland on March 1, 1810, is known as Poland’s greatest composer in addition to being a virtuoso pianist.
Man I just had the best freaking time listening to and reading the score for Chopin’s Prelude No.2 in A minor. I was listening to my “Badass Classical” playlist on Spotify. I’m a Spotify lover and I seemed to have added this marvelous piece of music a while back. I never got into it though, never listened to it fully while reading the score itself and trying to follow along.
I had to try several times to follow along because I’m not that great at reading music yet. I can read it at a slow pace. To try and play along while reading to a new piece is undoable right now for me. But little by little, step by step, I was able to read all the harmony and play them on the guitar.
What a cool experience. In fact, it was more than cool, it was mind-blowing. Playing a Frederic Chopin piece is mind-blowing. I highly suggest (if you like songwriting and composing) to check this piece out and give it a shot. You could study and analyze any piece you like of course, I just chose this one because it moved me deeply.
I was on the highway and I had someone in the car with me so the volume was low, and I couldn’t hear the low notes on the piano that come in right at the beginning. It intrigued me though, and I had to hear it at full volume.
When I finally got to it after a few minutes of distractions, I was mesmerized. I played it on loop several times. Its the most haunting, beautiful piece I’ve heard in a long time that I wanted to really analyze.
I say that a lot but its true. A long time for me is a few days to a week since I listen to music on a daily basis.
The amount of knowledge I derived from this piece is astonishing to say the least. A true master’s work deciphered by studying each measure very carefully.
It definitely took me a while to decipher but the chords (aka harmony) are incredible.
The piece is in A minor but there are accidentals all over the piece which cause great tension and release in every single measure. Tension and release is music. Every measure has this effect because of the notes out of key that he used.
Let’s see if I can bring out all the chords he used here.
I haven’t looked at any other analysis nor have I done any research on any site.
My goal is to become a Master. This is my own analysis. I will then compare it by doing research. If I don’t find an analysis better than mine then I will have done my job well. If there is a better analysis then I have work to do…
Lets’s take a look at the harmony…
Measure 1 has an E and a B for the first chord. This implies an E5 chord. Remember that the Key is in A Minor. The next chord is an A# with a G. I have an idea as to what he was thinking here.
He moves from E5 to G/A# to E5 to G as an octave chord meaning G and G.
E5 – G/A# – E5 – G/G – E5 – G/A# – E5 – G/G = Measures 1-3.
Measure 4 repeats the same rhythm but with new notes in place of the E5 chords. Now he uses an inverted Bm chord which implies Melodic minor use. In A Melodic minor there is a Bm Chord. He uses it here as an inversion. Check out these chords.
B/D – G/A# – B/D – G/G – B/D – G/A# – B/D – G/G = Measure 4.
You can see the pattern here which gives off an ominous type of sound because of that A#. The A# is a half step above the root of the key.
My belief is that he does this… first because he was confident in his abilities in composing, and second because he simply wanted to express extreme tension and release by alternating back and forth for the entire piece.
He might have been bored of the key as I believe composers often are, and because they love music so much… they see new possibilities just from being so acquainted with music itself and also with the key.
It gets even crazier here in measures 5-8. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Coming from a rock/heavy metal standpoint these chords and the WAY that he uses them… I have never ever seen this before.
Simply astounding are the words to express my joy at having found this amazing piece of musical mastery.
I know I sound like a fanboy. But thats because I am. Stay with me!
In these measures the rhythm, as I stated before, stays the same. Its that ominous up and down, up and down feeling, that sort of puts you in a trance.
Pull out your phone and search for Chopin’s Prelude No.2 in A minor and listen along while you are reading this. You can also visit IMSLP for a free download of the score.
Here are the chords: (all chords in this piece are DIADS – 2 note chords)
2 note chords can imply bigger chords but not necessarily.
In this case the notes are so low on the piano that using 3 notes may have muddied up the piece and hard to hear distinctly on the low end.
D5 – G#/G – D5 – G/G – D5 – G#/F# – D5 – F#/F# = Measure 5.
Okay that is measure 5. Holy shite! Yes shite!
The G#/G can be thought of as G#maj7 but (I) think he used a b9 (flat ninth) – which is a half step above G simply to add tension.
That was his goal…to add tension.
This adds MASSIVE tensions to the piece. He then goes back to the D5 and then releases you into an octave chord of G right away and we are only on beat 2 of measure 5.
Measures 6 and 7
G octave (but octave below this time just for beat 1) then Em G5 Eb G5 Em G5 Eb. It does this for 2 measures but on measure 7 the extra low G is not there.
G(8va) Em G5 Eb G5 Em G5 Eb
G5 Em G5 Eb G5 Em G5 Eb
B5 – D/E# – B5 – D/D – B5 – D/E# – B5 – D/D
Measure 9 continues the the D/E# chords after an A6 chord. (A and F#).
A6 – D/E# – A6 – D/D – A6 – D/D – A6 – D/D
A5 – D#/D – A5 – D/D – A5 – C#/D# – A5 – C#/C#
Cx means C double sharp. So its actually a D. I kept it as it was in the score..Cx.
A(b5) – C#/Cx – A(b5) – C#/C# – A(b5) – C#/Cx – A(b5) – C#/C#
A(b5) – C#/Cx – A(b5) – C#/C# – A(b5) – Cx/C – A(b5) – C/C
Okay so we are halfway to the end…:)
So now the chords play for an entire measure with no melody above it, just harmony.
I believe he did this to give the listener a sense of emptiness not knowing when the next note will strike…and when it does it comes in very nicely and starts on beat 2 which is tied all the way until beat 4 plus half of that beat.
So on the upbeat the next note comes in.
But we’re still on the harmony here so here it is:
F#6 (F# and D#)
F#6 – A/Cx – F#6 – A/C – F#6 – A/Cx – F#6 – A/C
F#6 – A/Cx – F#6 – A/C – D#/F (aka F7) – A/Cx – D#/F – A/B (aka B7)
C/E – B7 – C/E – A – C/E – B7 – C/E – A
C/E – B7 – C/E – A – C/E – B7 – C/E – A
No Harmony. Very interesting.
Beats 1 and 2 no harmony still.
Beats 3 and 4 = C/E – B(b5)or B/F – C/E – F/A
Beats 1 and 2 only:
C/E – B/F – C/E – F/A – no harmony on beats 3 and 4.
No harmony beats 1 and 2 –
Beats 3 and 4 = Full E chord then a full B chord.
Full E Chord – full Em7 chord with a very low extra E.
Am chord arpeggiated. (a e c e a) – with a Fermata over it which means you elongate that arpeggio a little longer than usual. Its up to you how long you want to do it.
The Rhythm of the Harmony… Stays the same throughout the entire piece. It Gives a hypnotic feel by using straight 8th notes for the entire piece!
Now lets talk about the melody…
The melody starts in measure 3 with a double dotted half note which leaves room for an 8th note before the next measure into a a D whole note.
The notes are e, b and d.
Measure 5 is a dotted quarter note into a grace note… 8th note into another 8th note and into another dotted quarter note with another 8th note.
The notes are d, f#, e, d and a.
Measure 6 is d notes all the way through – a quarter note then a dotted 8th note with a 16th note. and then a half note that is tied through to half of the next measure.
The notes are all d notes.
The melody doesn’t come back in until beat 3 of measure 8 with a dotted quarter and an 8th note.
The notes are b and f#.
Those notes accentuate the harmony being played by the left hand.
Measure 9 has a whole note on A which matches the low notes of the harmony (the pedal tone). It matches the pedal tone in the bass. (an A note)
Measures 1o, 11 and 12 have the same motives as measures 5, 6 and 7.
The notes are a, c#, b, a, e and in measure 11, the notes are all f#’s which are not found in the harmony.
Measure 14 has no melody, you could say its a harmonic phrase.
Measure 15 starts on beat 2 with a half note on A, tied all the way through to the downbeat of beat 4 of measure 16. On the upbeat there is an 8th note on e. which goes into an accented (F) whole note in measure 17.
Measure 18 there is no harmony only melody.
The notes are the same motive as before in measure 5, 6 and 7…and 10, 11 and 12.
This gives the piece a sense of cohesiveness.
The notes are f, a, g, f, c into
measures 18 and 19 which are all (d notes).
Measures 20 and 21 have again the same motive but is cut short.
The notes are d, f, e, d, a into b notes of measure 21. Beats 3 and 4 are chords –
E and B. (sostenuto)
has an E7 chord (half note) followed by an Em7 chord (half note) with a b dotted quarter note in the melody into a c 8th note.
The piece ends in measure 23 with an arpeggiated A minor chord
– a, e, c, e, a – (with a fermata).
I now break the melody down to make it easier on the eyes…
Melody Comprised into 4 Phrases.
e, b and d. – d, f#, e, d and a. – d notes.
b and f#. a whole note – a, c#, b, a, e – F#’s
A E F – f, a, g, f, c – d notes
d, f, e, d, a into b notes – E and B. (sostenuto) chords – E7 Em7 Am Arpeggio
What can we take from these notes…
Even though the harmony is causing GREAT tensions, the melody is in Am. It doesn’t venture out into the chromatic scale. What it does, rather, is use the A melodic minor scale tone (F#).
A B C D E F# G A – those are the notes used in this piece.
Pretty cool if you ask me.
I hope you have enjoyed this analysis and it has helped you understand what Frederic Chopin did and what a composer can do to manipulate a piece of music to his liking.
You can do the same.
Share, study, learn and compose something yourself. If you don’t apply, you never really learn something.
Like Confucius said…I do and I understand.
The next piece I believe I will analyze will be Chopin’s Prelude 4. If you have any requests let me know in the comments below.
Til next time.’